Posted May 14, 2014 10:24 PM - Updated May 15, 2014 8:55 AM
The Golden State Warriors lost in the first round of the playoffs, but they pulled off the biggest shocker of the postseason by convincing TNT analyst Steve Kerr to accept their offer to be the team's next head coach -- which required Kerr to spurn his former head coach, Phil Jackson, and the New York Knicks.
Kerr, 48, was Jackson's first and only choice to replace Mike Woodson, and for the last couple of weeks, everything pointed toward Kerr joining Jackson, now the Knicks' president of basketball operations, in New York. But Kerr was overwhelmed by the Warriors' talent base, their west coast address and a last-minute pilgrimage the team's brain trust made to Oklahoma City on Monday to change his mind.
"It just felt like the right move on many levels," Kerr said by phone Wednesday. "They have a good young team. The location is ideal. My daughter goes to Cal and plays volleyball. My oldest son is in college in San Diego and our youngest is a junior in high school. It's just a short flight for them."
Kerr said it was "agonizing" the last couple of weeks. Despite the speculation since before the end of the regular season that Kerr would take the New York job, his representatives have only been in talks with the Knicks the last two and a half weeks.
"It was so tantalizing on many levels," Kerr said. "Number one, Phil Jackson. Number two, the Knicks are a flagship franchise, one of the great franchises in the league. The last two weeks have been agonizing, in talking with Phil and (general manager) Steve Mills. They've got really good people there and I do think they're going to get it turned around there. The Knicks could not have been better in giving me the space to make a decision, especially when I had a game to do every other night."
Three other teams tried to get in on discussions with Kerr about their teams, but Kerr was committed to seeing the talks with the Knicks through. But he couldn't get the Warriors out of his mind.
"Ultimately, it was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he's done for my career," said Kerr, who won three titles playing for Jackson in Chicago with the Bulls. "When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no? I think they're going to turn it around, but going to be a big undertaking and it's going to take time. The idea of doing that 3,000 miles from home, it just didn't feel right."
Kerr told Jackson Tuesday, before working the Thunder-Clippers game, that despite an offer from New York that was "more than fair," he was strongly considering taking the Golden State offer.
"I told Phil, 'I think I have to pursue this other opportunity,' Kerr said. "He gave me his blessing. He said go look at it, and do what was in my heart."
Golden State coveted Kerr after firing Mark Jackson earlier this month, following the Warriors' fiercely fought seven-game series with the Clippers. Despite winning 99 regular-season games the last two years and leading the Warriors to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in two decades, Jackson fell out of favor with Lacob amid conflicting reports about dissension within the organization.
The Warriors turned their attention toward Stan Van Gundy after Kerr was seemingly too far down the road with New York. But Van Gundy shocked everyone by quickly working out a deal with Detroit that gave him full control of the Pistons' basketball operations as well as becoming head coach.
Scrambling not to get left at the coaching altar, the Warriors' braintrust -- including Lacob, GM Bob Myers and vice president Rick Welts, a close friend of Kerr's -- flew to Oklahoma City Monday in a last-ditch effort to change Kerr's mind. They met with Kerr for three hours at the Will Rogers Airport.
Kerr was intrigued by the Warriors' roster. While the Suns' GM in 2009, Kerr nearly orchestrated a Draft-night trade to get Stephen Curry. But he was also unsure Golden State would have a clear path to the playoffs in the West going forward, while New York had a much easier chance to return to the playoffs in the significantly weaker East.
"There's no question that was one of the attraction points on New York, that's an easier path," Kerr said. "The biggest thing for me is, I want to be happy every day. I want to be in partnership with the people on the team. And the one thing that a lot of the coaches that I talked to said was, you have to have talent. And Golden State has talent."
Kerr would not commit to running the triangle offense next season. "I learned from guys like Gregg Popovich, Phil and Lenny Wilkens," Kerr said. "I have strong beliefs on spacing and ball movement and that will be reflected in our play."
It will be the first coaching job for Kerr, who had mixed results running the Suns for three years before returning to TNT as the network's lead NBA analyst in 2010. Kerr also called NCAA games for Turner and worked the Final Four this season for TBS.
Kerr was named president of basketball operations in Phoenix in 2007, after the Suns had become the league's most exciting team under two-time league MVP Steve Nash. But Kerr believed the team needed to improve its half-court offense and defense to break through in the west. In three seasons at the helm in Phoenix, Kerr remade the franchise, gambling on Shaquille O'Neal in a 2008 trade that brought the big man to the desert for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. But the Suns lost to the Spurs in the first round that season, and Mike D'Antoni was released from his contract at his request in the summer of '08.
The following season, Phoenix didn't make the postseason, going 46-36. In Kerr's final season, he brought Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley in from Charlotte for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. And the Suns went on an unexpected run to the Western Conference finals under Alvin Gentry, who Kerr named head coach in 2009 after his initial choice to replace D'Antoni, Terry Porter, lasted only half a season before Kerr fired him.
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